A while ago I read a statistic that most people only ever cook three recipes on average from any one cook book they own. I looked over at my cook book collection and had to admit to myself that I was probably living up to that statistic. Of course there were a few exceptions, books I use all the time, but there were also books I had NEVER actually cooked from. I was quite philosophical about this, thinking that I get enjoyment from just looking at some of those books, which I do. But at the same time I did think perhaps is was a bit of a waste to have all those books and then not use for the intended purpose, and for more than just three recipes. So I decided to make a concerted effort to change this fact.
When considering what book to start with I spent a lovely evening flicking through some of my books, pondering the merits of each one. I thought I had decided on one or two of the more obscure ones, but then reconsidered as they weren’t exactly child friendly, or quick, easy meals to whip up. I’ll have to tackle those ones when things aren’t so hectic around meal times. Sort of by default as it happened to still be on the coffee table when I was writing the shopping list, I chose Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals. My opinions of Jamie Oliver has improved in recent years. At first I found him somewhat arrogant and showy – which he still is a bit – but I have also found his recipes do-able, tasty and interesting. I respect what he’s trying to do with his food revolution and his Fifteen restaurants, even if he is able to cash in on them at the same time. I tend to find celebrity chefs – especially male ones – so revoltingly over the top (though I still myself drawn to watching them on TV) and I think Jamie’s live shows would fit that description well, but I did enjoy his most recent series around Britain and I am enjoying using this book.
The pretext of it is interesting, being able to prepare a meal from start to finish in 30 minutes, a meal that includes sides and often desserts and are designed to share with friends or family. I’ve been trying one of the meals a week for a while, aiming for a night when Mr Good is home early or a weekend so we can all sit together and enjoy it (ignoring the antics of Miss Two). I don’t bother trying to do them in 30 minutes and I often tweak the recipes so that they can be cooked for longer and slower, or prepared in part ahead of time as I usually find myself getting dinner organised as much as possible in the early afternoon while Baby Good sleeps. Annoyingly, once I have the meal ready and on the table I always forget to photograph it before we tuck in.
So far we have tried:
1. Pregnant Jools’s pasta with crunchy chicory and watercress salad (there was supposed to be little frangipane tarts but I don’t always do the dessert). The pasta was like a super fast ragu (what Jamie’s wife craved during pregnancy) and used good quality sausages instead of the usual slow cooked meat. It’s not as rich as a traditional ragu, but it was a nice, easy and fast dinner.
2. Cauliflower macaroni, chicory salad with insane dressing and lovely stewed fruit. This main dish was a a real hit with my family especially the little bits of crunchy, salty pancetta, but it made SO much.
3. Summer veg lasagne, Tuscan tomato salad and quick mango frozen yoghurt. I loved this vegetarian lasagne because of all the beautiful green vegies (especially the ones from my garden) in it and the lightness of the sauce, but Miss Two wasn’t so impressed. The tomato salad on the other hand was a big winner and the mango ‘ice cream’ is still being requested.
4. Spinach and feta filo pie, cucumber salad, tomato salad (without coated ice cream). I made this one last night, but swapped the spinach for home grown silverbeet and the cucumber and tomato for the salads were also harvested from the garden that day, along with all the herbs. It feels great with the vast majority of the meal is home grown doesn’t it. I did, however, find the filo pastry too thick the way it was described and didn’t cook properly on the bottom (I put it back in the oven for a while). It was supposed to be cooked in a pan that could go on the stove and in the oven – starting on the stove to cook the bottom and then going into the oven. Unfortunately I didn’t have an appropriate pan, so it was all cooked in the oven in a baking dish. Both salads were quite simple, but lovely.
5. Curry rogan josh, fluffy rice, carrot salad, poppadoms, flat bread and beer (even I had a beer with this one). I made this on an insanely hot Saturday, we ate very early and then went to the park in the evening. In my rush to get the dishes ready I left out some key ingredients (the chickpeas and spinach from the curry). Given that it was a vegetarian curry with pumpkin and cauliflower, these certainly would have added to the flavour of the dish, but we enjoyed it anyway. How great is cauliflower at absorbing spices! And it wasn’t too hot for the girls either.
6. Chicken pie with French-style peas, sweet carrot smash (without berries, shortbread and Chantilly cream). I think this one has been my favourite so far. I’m always drawn to a good chicken pie anyway, but this one also had mushrooms and English mustard which I think is a great combination. Next time though I’ll use thighs instead of breasts as I cooked it slower than the recipe suggested, and I prefer the flavour of thighs anyway. Aside from the pie the vegetables were also delicious. The French style peas were cooked in the pan I prepared the pie filling in, with chicken stock, lettuce (yes cooked lettuce), mint and some butter and flour. It was supposed to be jem lettuce, but I had a butter lettuce that needed using up and it seemed to work fine. I loved them and could have eaten a plate of just these peas.
Next on the list is Mustard chicken, quick dauphinoise, greens and black forest affogato – I do so love the mustard/chicken combo.
Looking through the rest of the book there are plenty of meals I’m anticipating, but I won’t be trying everything – the liver and bacon meal will not be happening. What I am enjoying is the salads and side dishes, which once I’ve made I start thinking about the other dishes they could accompany. I tend to find my salads and vegetables get pretty boring and are something of an after thought most nights. It nice to have some new ones up my sleeves. And as summer moves into autumn and winter it will be vegetables I now turn to.
As I continue with this little cookbook experiment I am starting to consider the next one I tackle in a more systematic way – it certainly makes my meal planning and shopping list writing easier and add some much needed variety to our every day dinners.